With the onset of winter we start to see adverts for children’s vitamins. But are they actually any use?
The Regulation of Children’s Vitamins
Vitamins are classed as a food supplement rather than a medicine. They are regulated by the Food Standards Agency, who impose strict labelling rules. As such, all vitamin labels have to state how much of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) they contain. But this doesn’t mean they have to contain the full 100% RDA.
The problem is that busy parents might not know this and might assume they contain the full amount. They can also contain other ingredients that parents might find undesirable. Gelatine (an animal product) and sugar are commonly added ingredients.
It’s always worth reading the label before relying on any brand of vitamin to provide 100% RDA.
What The Experts Say About Kids’ Vitamins
The Department of Health recommends that children aged six months to five years take a daily supplement containing vitamins A, C and D. Babies taking 500ml of formula a day don’t need to, as formula is fortified.
However this is to support healthy growth, not to prevent colds. The NHS wants kids to have vitamins to ensure their brains and bodies grow as they should, even if their diet is limited. (Free NHS vitamins are available on the low income Healthy Start Scheme.)
In fact, there’s very little evidence that vitamin C actually helps prevent colds. That’s right, the one we all know boosts the immune system. One recent study showed a high dose may reduce the duration of colds in kids by 14%. But it didn’t show an effect on whether they catch one in the first place.
What About Diet?
A healthy, balanced diet is essential for developing kids (and adults too). Children’s vitamins should only be used to plug the gaps.
Parents know kids can be picky eaters. Hiding broccoli under mashed potatoes, simply refusing to eat anything green. So vitamins can be useful, but reliance on vitamin supplements creates problems. Letting kids eat processed, fatty and salty foods as long as they take a vitamin supplement isn’t the way to go. These foods can lead to obesity and diabetes, regardless of vitamin status.
Children should get the majority of their vitamins from a proper balanced diet – so persevere with those tricky eating habits.
What About Sugar?
Sugar and sweetener is often a main ingredient in kids’ chewable vitamins. Let’s take Haliborange Orange flavour softies for 3-12 year olds as an example. They list glucose syrup and sugar as the first, and largest, ingredients. But does that matter?
The consequences of pushing sugar into your child’s teeth are well documented. Under-fives are having teeth removed because of decay. So adding sugar to what is essentially a health supplement is counter-intuitive. Of course, this is done to ensure children will actually eat it. If the sugar bothers you, as it does me, you can choose a sugar-free kids vitamin.
Be aware that the ‘it looks like a Haribo’ aspects of some children’s vitamins make them susceptible to overdosing. Make sure you keep tasty vitamins well out of reach. An overdose of vitamins can make children extremely ill.
There’s also the psychological aspect of taking medicines that taste sweet. In the future will everything have to be sugar-coated? Eventually children have to learn not everything comes as they like it. If they have sweet-style vitamins where does this leave their broccoli? On the side of their plate.
Don’t Rely On Vitamins
A good diet is essential, but vitamins can’t hurt – especially if you have a fussy eater. There is little evidence it’ll stop them getting a cold this winter. But if nothing else, it may help them develop a strong and healthy body. Just brush their teeth afterwards to remove any sugar, or choose a sugar-free version.